Capitol View Commentary: Jan. 16, 2009 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Jan. 16, 2009


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

January 16, 2009


This coming week (January 19-24) looms as a very historically significant seven days in America's and in Nashville's history.

It begins with the now annual holiday observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. When this holiday was first established back in the mid-1980s, I remember how so many remarked how wonderful it was that they would live to see the day when a national holiday honored a man of color. As the years have gone by, you can see how more and more people continue to embrace the day as a time to bring us all together and to see our unity in our diversity.

This year, on the very next day after the national MLK celebration, on Tuesday, January 20, another barrier will tumble when we celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, our new President, and the first black man to ever serve in that position. Again, it is the type of event that many people thought they would never see in their lifetimes.

Now comes the Nashville connection. Two days later, on Thursday, January 22, voters here will go to the polls to consider the English Only charter amendment. How far have we really come? Will we, as a city, continue to move ahead, working together as a welcoming community to bring true unity out of our diversity? Or we will turn our backs on that, voting our fears and biases, rather than our hopes and dreams?

Rarely are the achievements we've made, along with the challenges and the choices we still face so compactly contained in just a few short days in a single week.

Don't look for a prediction from me on how this English Only vote will play out Thursday night. Early voting will be around 12,000 and there are some indications that the heaviest early vote came from parts of town where a "no" vote is more likely. But remember, over 20,000 people sent in their signatures on postcards to support getting this matter on the ballot, so the supporters seem to have a solid base of support. It appears to me that both sides have a lot of work to do Election Day and they are pursuing very different strategies to get there.

English Only supporters have done a few, small ads in the weekly newspapers. But most of their outreach work seems to have been done using e-mails and social networking, again trying to motivate those who signed the petition (and others) to vote. They've also tried to fuzz up the meaning of the charter amendment by calling it English First. There is no language in the amendment that says English First, but there is language saying English Only. And while Councilman Eric Crafton, who is leading this charter change, says his real purpose is to keep Metro Council and other government meetings in English, there is no mention of that in his proposal at all. Instead it is so vague, no one knows exactly what it will mean, except that it will cause a lot of litigation and expense to determine all that, and it will give Nashville a national PR black eye.

In the final days of the campaign there is another way the English Only supporters are deliberately fuzzing up their efforts. The law requires any group collecting or spending money on behalf of a referendum issue like this to disclose what they are doing. Those opposing English Only have done that, while the English Only supporters seem to have deliberately missed the deadline to disclose which was a few days ago. Is there something in what the English Only supporters are doing (there had been media reports earlier that national hate groups might be supporting this effort?) that they don't want voters to know about before January 22? Do they find it more convenient to pay a fine rather than tell the public the truth (before the election) about what they are doing and who is supporting their effort financially?  

In terms of tactics, the opponents of English Only have been much more high profile. They've managed to persuade many diverse, and sometimes opposing groups (business/labor for example), to come together to try to defeat this amendment. They've put up yard signs, run TV ads, conducted phone banks and sent out robo calls. Can this get their voters to the polls? Special elections are known for very low turnouts, although I believe more people than usual will vote election day this time because early voting was held in only one (not multiple) locations. But will the voters against the English Only amendment get overconfident after seeing so many prominent groups coming out against it? Will the prominence of the opponent's outreach trigger a backlash from those who support the amendment? 

  Join us Thursday night (January 22) on OPEN LINE at 7:00 PM on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50, as we bring you the returns from this most interesting and historic vote for our city.


Organizational sessions for most legislative bodies are usually pretty cut and dried and boring. But when the 106th Tennessee General Assembly came to town a few days ago, it turned out to be anything but that. 

As expected Republicans made history by taking over both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. They also easily elected the state's three constitutional officers (Secretary of State, Comptroller and Treasurer) for the first time ever.

And while this Republican takeover included the election of the first GOP Speaker of the House in 40 years, a political bombshell went off when the Republican elected was not the lawmaker the House Republican Caucus nominated (Rep. Jason Mumpower) but was instead a backbencher with only 2-years experience in the body....and he was elected by the Democrats (along with his own vote).

It created an almost "Alice in Wonderland" atmosphere for a while (nothing was really as it seemed). It also created a lot of anger and outrage among Republicans, who felt they had been hoodwinked out of something they had earned from the results of last November's election.

So how did the Democrats pull off the slickest political maneuver of the year (and maybe even more startling than what Ron Ramsey did by luring Democrat Rosalind Kurita to join Republicans in the Senate to get him elected Lt. Governor two years ago)? How did Democratic leaders get a GOP Representative, now Speaker, Kent Williams to come over to their side? Was it his maverick background with GOP House leaders or because he was a childhood friend of Democratic Leader Gary Odom of Nashville, the master mind of this coup? How did the Democrats ever agree to elect any Republican Speaker? How did the deal not leak out? Why didn't Republican leaders know something funny was afoot with Williams, given his party history and especially when Williams told an East Tennessee radio interviewer a few days before the vote that while he supported Mumpower: "you never know what can happens in politics?' Indeed.

For answers to these and other questions join us for INSIDE POLITICS this weekend (January 19-22). My guests are Representative Odom and GOP House Caucus Leader Glen Casada. It is a fascinating conversation, especially if you want more of the "back story" on what happened. Casada says, indeed, there were two other Republicans approached about defecting, but he wants to know why he was not told about that by his members (who he won't name) until after the Williams-Odom deal was done?

Odom says it's easy to explain why he and the Democrats did what they did: to keep access to power in the House committees, which they will get to do under Williams and but would not under Mumpower. Odom also believes Speaker Williams can do a great job (although there is a lot of doubt about that, especially among Republicans). Odom says Williams will not be his "puppet", again something Republicans remain quite skeptical about.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Fridays.....7:00 PM....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays...5:00 AM...NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturdays....5:30 PM.....NEWCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays.......5:00 AM... WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5

Sundays........5:00 AM....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

A few other notes I'd like to share about the show. Unlike the hours just after the bomb was dropped by the House Democrats, Republicans like Casada now seem a bit more moderate in their tone. They realize Speaker Williams  is Speaker and while they don't like it, they will have to deal with it. They are quoting Ronald Reagan saying with Speaker Williams, they plan to "trust by verify" whatever he says.  

That's interesting given the reactions of the three GOP gubernatorial candidates to the Speaker election. All expressed disappointment at what happened, but only Congressman Zach Wamp sharply criticized Speaker Williams for his defection saying (and quoting from his Twitter comments: "Bad day for good GOP. Rep Williams should be ashamed." The other GOP candidates did not even mention Williams in their comments.  Speaker Williams' betrayal of his party and of Mumpower are clearly a major hot button/red meat issue with Republican activists, who will make up a lot of voters in the GOP primary in August, 2010. Did Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam or Shelby County DA Bill Gibbons miss an opportunity by not going after him? Did Wamp score a coup? Or will the more moderate tone of the GOP leaders in the House wind up being the dominant sentiment by election time?

Finally, back in the days when former Governor Ned Ray McWherter was Speaker, the Democratic majority in the House was so large it could be said that it would be a cold day in you know where before a Republican was ever elected Speaker.

So does that explain these arctic temperatures around here the last few days? J


Metro government held its annual budget kickoff a few days back....and the news was hardly material for a pep rally.

Because of the continuing economic downturn, city agencies were told to prepare spending plans that are 10% less than what they are today. That's on top of a 5% cut last year and another 3% during this current fiscal year. ...a combined 18% cut from just two years ago.

Now normally this kind of dire budget news might be the pretext for talk about a property tax increase....and this is the year when Metro does its every four year property reappraisal (and in recent years has raised taxes at the same time).

But I didn't hear anything like that coming from the budget kickoff. Does this mean that Mayor Dean may wait until another time, like 2010, before asking for a tax hike? After all, on the federal and state levels, the talk is about stimulating the economy, giving tax cuts (federal) or cutbacks ,layoffs  or spending reserve funds (state). Nobody is talking about a tax hike during one of the worst recessions in recent years. 

But that doesn't mean an easy budget year by any means, as you can already tell by the short tempers shown at a recent Metro Council committee meeting where discussions where held about how to continue to fund health care for the poor, including the operations of the city's General Hosptal. Snd there are lots of other issues that will be equally difficult to deal with in the next budget which the Mayor must submit to the Council by May 1.

Metro Schools has its budget issues too. Several million dollars have already been cut in this year's spending plan and more is on the way. That's just one of the many major issues (including No Child Left Behind) facing the school system's new Director, Dr. Jesse Register, who began his new job recently.

But he did seem to get a positive welcome from Mayor Karl Dean, who had earlier told the Metro School Board not to hire anyone for Register's position until the issue of the state taking over Metro because of No Child Left Behind problems was resolved.

It was comforting and quite interesting to see and hear the Mayor and Register make nice, especially since a possible candidate to run Metro schools, if the state takes over, is the Mayor himself. So can Register and Metro students make enough "No Child" progress to keep the state at bay and keep Register and the School Board in their jobs? Can Register resolve the latest state objections to what Metro is doing (and not doing) to improve itself which were issues in a stinging state audit in the last few days? If so, will that alone be enough "progress" (along with some improvement in No Child test scores) to keep the school system under it's current leadership? And is the Mayor still working on his plan to take over Metro Schools, if asked, including seeking legislation from the state that we understand he has been seeking support for in recent weeks?

Both parties say they are committed to working together to solve the state's massive budget problems. As if to underline those issues, and signal to lawmakers, it is time to quit the political power games, Governor Bredesen says the state could be facing layoffs of more than 2,000 workers.

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